Articles Posted in Employment Law

Power Design, an electrical contractor that’s completed more than 1,000 projects nationwide, is facing a lawsuit in the District of Columbia, where officials claim the company illegally misclassified hundreds of workers to lower wages and avoid payroll taxes.

The suit claims that instead of classifying the workers as employees, the St. Petersburg-based company used two labor brokers to classify at least 535 electrical workers as independent contractors. As a result, the workers did not receive overtime, sick pay or, in dozens of cases, even the minimum wage, according to the lawsuit. 

“Power Design cheated hundreds of district workers out of their hard-earned wages and stripped them of their legal rights,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said in an announcement of the suit. “When companies misclassify employees as independent contractors, they steal from their workers and gain an unfair advantage over competitors that follow the law.”

The District of Columbia’s Workplace Fraud Act requires construction companies to classify workers in most circumstances as employees who are paid at least a minimum wage, overtime and other benefits, officials said.

To classify a worker as an independent contractor, a construction company has to prove that the worker does the job independently, is typically self-employed and does work that falls outside the core business of the company.

Independent contractors must pay all their own taxes, are not protected by most labor laws and do not have access to workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance.

Racine’s office also sued JVA Services and DDK Electric, contending that the Maryland-based companies acted as labor brokers to help Power Design cut costs and avoid its legal responsibilities. Their primary business, officials said, involved supplying Power Design with an average of 30 to 40 workers, but in one case as many as 90, for its projects.

Officials said that from 2014 to 2017 Power Design worked at least 10 large construction projects in the District of Columbia, among them the edgy LINE hotel and several luxury apartment complexes. 

According to the lawsuit, the company:

  • Never listed the workers in question as employees on Power Design’s payroll.
  • Paid less than the district’s minimum wage of $10.50 per hour to 24 workers in early 2016 and less than the minimum of $11.50 per hour to 39 workers after it rose in the middle of that year.
  • Did not pay at least 180 workers overtime to which employees are entitled in 2017.
  • Did not provide any misclassified employees with sick leave.
  • Did not pay unemployment insurance tax for any of the misclassified workers.
  • Cut costs to the point that it could submit low bids that won contracts away from competitors who complied with the law.

The Attorney General’s Office said it is seeking to recoup tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid minimum wages and overtime for workers, tens of thousands of dollars more in unpaid unemployment insurance taxes.

It also is seeking penalties from $1,000 to $5,000 for each misclassified worker and each failure to keep payroll records, which officials said could add up to millions of dollars in penalties.

In April, Power Design was ranked No. 2 among large companies in the Times’ annual Top Workplaces survey.

In response to the survey, Power Design said it had 526 employees, more than 130 active projects, a 70,000-square-foot national headquarters facility in St. Petersburg’s Gateway area and accumulative revenue exceeding $1 billion. The company also made the Top Workplaces list from 2013 to 2017.

Just because your employer has classified you a certain way or given you a certain job title does not mean that you are classified correctly as far as the state and federal governments are concerned. In order to qualify for the protection of federal (FLSA) or state labor law, an individual must be classified as an “employee.” Companies will often classify workers as “independent contractors” so they can avoid federal requirements to pay overtime and federal minimum wage.

Many businesses prefer to have their work performed by independent contractors rather than employees in order to avoid employment taxes and employee benefit costs. Employees are entitled to benefits and legal protections that independent contractors are not.

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On Sunday, Afton Williamson, star of ABC’s ‘The Rookie,” announced she would not be returning to the drama starring Nathan Fillion.

The Rookie actress says she was the victim of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

The actress, who co-starred on the cop drama from showrunner Alexi Hawley (Castle), ABC Studios and Entertainment One, announced her departure from the show in a lengthy post on her verified Instagram account.

Williamson claims she experienced racial discrimination and racially charged inappropriate comments from the hair department as well as from the drama’s executive producers starting with the pilot and continuing throughout the show’s first season. What’s more, the actress says the harassment was reported to Hawley and the showrunner never passed it along to human resources. Her issues escalated into sexual assault during The Rookie’s wrap party, she said.

Sources say Entertainment One — the lead studio on The Rookie — launched and has an ongoing investigation into Williamson’s claims. It’s unclear if the investigation was opened before or after Williamson departed the show. News of her departure hit the press July 26 and sources say she made the decision to not return for season two a few days before that.

“The allegations involve a production from Entertainment One. In late June, eOne made us aware and informed us that they launched an investigation that is ongoing. The safety of working environments is a top priority for us, and we take this matter very seriously,” an ABC spokesperson said in a statement.

“We take claims of this nature very seriously. We have initiated an independent investigation which is ongoing and as such, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time,” eOne said in a statement of its own late Sunday afternoon.

Williamson’s full post from Instagram is below.

I will not be returning for Season 2 of The Rookie. I owe it to you my amazing fans to share the Truth. Throughout the filming of the pilot, I experienced Racial Discrimination/Racially Charged inappropriate comments from the hair department and bullying from Executive Producers. During the Season, it continued along with Sexual Harassment from a recurring guest star and the racist commentary & bullying from the Hair Dept. Head escalated into Sexual Assault at our Wrap party.The Sexual Harassment though reported directly to the Showrunner/EP remained undocumented and was not reported to HR as promised. The Hair Dept. Head was fired ONLY after the sexual assault and NOT for an entire year of outward racism/racially charged language and bullying behavior in and out of the Hair and Makeup trailer. HR protocol was never adhered to following the above reports given by me to my Showrunner/EP and an investigation was never issued for any of my claims. The only time I was asked to participate in an investigation was after a meeting I called in June following our Season 2 announcement. This meeting included the Showrunner and two other producers as well as my agent and SAG-AFTRA Union Rep. It was clear to all present in the meeting that the Showrunner had not shared my reports with the any of the producers. After my initial report of sexual harassment, I was assured that the actor would be fired. I was also asked to film with him the very next day as a courtesy to the script, even though we had not begun filming the episode yet. This actor reappeared on our call sheet at the end of the season, I was even written in scenes with him. I asked the Showrunner about this and he admitted to me that the actor had not been fired nor had he gotten HR involved. I was asked to return this season, and promised that “everything was handled.” The investigation hadn’t even begun and Season 2 had already started filming. I turned it down and I walked. Now is the best time in the world to be a woman and I have a platform so it’s time to use my Voice. Strength comes from within. It comes from Above. “Greater is He that is within Me than he that is in the world.”

Being able to work in an evironment that is free from discrimination and harassment of any kind is part of our basic human rights and freedoms. When unlawful conduct affects your employment, unreasonably interferes with your work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, our Florida Employment Discrimination Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you recover financial compensation for your suffering.  

We routinely represent employees who have suffered discrimination based on their race, age, disability, taking of protected leave for medical reasons, or to care for a family member under the Family and Medical Leave Act, national origin, gender – including pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, sexual orientation, and religion. 

We can help with all types of workplace discrimination cases, including: 

  • Acts that occur before employment begins, like discriminatory hiring practices
  • Acts that occur during employment, such as discrimination in compensation, promotions, or other terms and conditions of employment
  • Acts that result from the taking of protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Acts that result in employment ending, such as wrongful termination
  • Any retaliatory actions employees face from their employers following a complaint about discrimination and harassment at work

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McDonald’s has been hit with another round of lawsuits from current and former employees who claim management brushed off or ignored their experiences of sexual misconduct at work.

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, the Fight For $15 movement to raise minimum wages and the American Civil Liberties Union announced the charges Tuesday, shedding light on 23 new complaints against the fast food chain and two lawsuits stemming from previous allegations.

McDonald’s cooks and cashiers at both corporate and franchise locations say they reported instances of sexual harassment and assault to their supervisors, but were either ignored or mocked, according to the lawsuits.

A McDonald’s worker from Louisiana whose co-worker allegedly attempted to rape her in a bathroom stall, said “nothing has changed” since her colleagues first began speaking out about sexual harassment at McDonald’s three years ago.

The advocacy groups, joined by “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi, are expected to hold a press conference outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago later Tuesday to support the workers and raise awareness of their fight.

In a letter addressed to Lakshmi on Sunday, McDonald’s stated it’s “committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace” and outlined recent efforts the company has taken to “create safe and respectful” workplaces, including a bolstered sexual harassment policy and a hotline for reporting complaints.

“In the next two months, McDonald’s and [the nonprofit Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] will facilitate additional conversations with U.S. restaurant employees and other relevant external stakeholder groups to help inform and further strengthen our policy and trainings,” the company wrote in its letter to Lakshmi. “These conversations underscore our commitment to continuous improvement and being responsive to the changing needs of our business and employees — now and in the future.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s told HuffPost that the company did not plan to address the allegations publicly outside of its letter to Lakshmi. She noted that roughly 95 percent of U.S. McDonald’s locations are independently-owned franchises and do not fall under the corporate umbrella.

Of the 23 new complaints announced Tuesday, 20 of the charges were sent to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the three others were filed as civil rights lawsuits, according to a spokeswoman for Fight For $15.

Some of the workers say they were as young as 16 or 17 years old when they were subjected to sexual misconduct at McDonald’s and that their complaints resulted in their hours being cut or termination, according to the lawsuits.

Dozens of sexual harassment charges have been filed against McDonald’s since 2016.

According to a recent EEOC report, nearly 40% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. If you’re being sexually harassed at work, there is no need to suffer in silence. Our Florida Sexual Harassment Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help you understand the laws set in place that protect your rights. Federal, state and local laws protect all employees from unwelcome sexual advances, threats, demands and propositions.

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The U.S. Soccer Federation has formally denied allegations of gender discrimination made by players of the U.S. women’s national team.

28 members of the current women’s player pool filed the lawsuit March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The USSF claims every decision made “with respect to the conduct alleged in the complaint was for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.”

The federation has maintained the differences in pay are the result of different collective bargaining agreements that establish distinct pay structures for the two teams. Those agreements are not public.

U.S. Soccer also maintained in the response that any alleged differences in pay between the men’s and women’s national teams were not based on gender, but “differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex.”

The USSF and the women’s team agreed in April 2017 to a collective bargaining agreement through 2021 that gave the players higher pay and better benefits.

The federation claims the allegations do not rise to the level required for punitive damages because there is no evidence of malicious, reckless or fraudulent intent to deny the players their rights.

The lawsuit brought by current national team players is an escalation of a long-simmering dispute over pay and treatment. Five players filed a complaint in 2016 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The lawsuit effectively ended that EEOC complaint.

It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, as it’s illegal for an employer to pay women a different amount than their male co-workers if they are working the same job and have the same level of experience and skill. As this case shows, there are two main federal laws that make it illegal to pay women less simply based on their gender. Title VII prohibits any workplace discrimination based on sex, race, or religion. The Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for an employer to pay women a different amount for substantially similar work.

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A roofing contracting company based in Thonotosassa, Florida has paid $265,001 in back wages to 67 employees after a U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigation found the employer violated overtime and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The employer also paid $17,753 in civil money penalties for repeat violations.

WHD investigators found the roofing contracting company paid employees a piece rate without regard to the number of hours they actually worked. This practice resulted in violations when employees worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, but the employer failed to pay them overtime in addition to their piece rates.

WHD also cited recordkeeping violations when the employer failed to maintain daily and weekly records of the number of hours employees worked.

If your employer is denying your overtime pay or if you work more than 40 hours in a workweek and do not see overtime on your paycheck, our Florida Unpaid Overtime Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you recover every penny you have worked for and deserve.

When you work more than 40 hours in a workweek, federal law mandates that you should be compensated at the rate of one and half times your hourly wage. Employees cannot be required to work more than 40 hours in a single week without additional compensation.

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Four women have joined the class action lawsuit alleging discrimination against pregnant and breastfeeding AC Transit employees.

The transportation agency allegedly discriminates and fails to accommodate pregnant women who work for them.

On of the women says she was offered a room where she was told she pump breast milk when she returned to work after her first pregnancy in 2016 – it was an old closet she describes as dirty and that had no privacy.

The woman left her job as a bus driver and now gets paid less as an AC Transit clerk, all so that she can pump.

Another woman says the company makes it difficult for expecting mothers. She joined the suit after she fell asleep at the wheel and crashed her bus while pregnant. She says she asked for lighter desk work prior to the accident but was not accommodated.

So far, four women in total allege that AC Transit refused to accommodate their pregnancy or lactation needs and that they are in violation of their legal rights.

AC Transit released a statement saying that they work with new mothers and value the importance of women in the workforce, and that “it is important to note, modifications of duties can present logistical challenges given the nature of public transit. However, ac transit adopts an individual process that takes into account accommodation options for each new mom and her newborn throughout the first year of life.”

Juggling a family and work is no easy feat, especially for new moms. Seeking a balance between earning money and parental responsibilities can be quite difficult. There are laws in place that protect pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace. Workplace discrimination based on pregnancy and nursing is illegal, and our Florida Discrimination Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can make sure that you know what your rights are and that they remain protected.

When your employer prevents you from pumping breast milk during work hours, it may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under FLSA, employers must provide breastfeeding mothers reasonable break time and a private space (other than a bathroom) to pump at work for one year following their child’s birth.

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Two female employees are suing Walt Disney Co., alleging the company is violating the state’s equal pay act and paying women less than men doing similar work.

The class action lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and is covering people who worked for Walt Disney Studios in roughly the last four years.

Disney said the lawsuit was “baseless.” In a statement, the company said it maintains “robust pay equity practices and policies” and has a specialized team of compensation professionals and lawyers to address the matter. “We are confident that they [the claims] will be found to be meritless when tested against the evidence, rather than the rhetoric of the complaint.”

The lawsuit was brought by Southern California Disney employees. One woman works as a manager in product development for Disney in Glendale. In 2017, she raised the issue that she was not being compensated fairly, the lawsuit said. At the time, her base salary was $109,958. Six other men who held the same title were paid $16,000 to nearly $40,000 more, according to the lawsuit. Five months after she brought up the issue, the woman said, Disney asserted that her salary amount “was not due to gender,” but in November 2018, the company boosted her pay by $25,000, the lawsuit claims. Even with the pay adjustment, the woman believes she is still making less than men doing similar work.

The other woman works as a senior copyright administrator in the Disney Music Group in Burbank. She says she was discouraged from applying for a manager position that was later changed to a senior manager role and given to a man. The lawsuit claims that “he is making significantly more than the woman even though they are both performing the same or substantially similar work.”

Our Florida Employment Law Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are committed to helping bring about gender pay equality. There are laws in place requiring employers to pay women and men the same for equal work. These laws extend beyond salary, including bonuses and other benefits. If you are getting paid less than your male coworkers, we can help you understand your rights and achieve justice.

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A 25-year-old New York state middle school teacher has filed a $3 million lawsuit against her former employer.

She says she was fired because of a topless photo she’d sent privately to someone she was dating.

A student somehow got hold of the photo and began circulating it, but she says that’s not her fault and that she shouldn’t be punished for it.

She is now suing the South Country School District for that amount in a gender discrimination lawsuit because she was fired over the selfie last week.

She said she texted the photo to her partner at the time, another teacher in the district, more than two years ago.

She has no idea how a student was able to get a copy and share it.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this case progresses and its outcome. The main argument here is that no man would ever be fired for exposing his chest in a photograph, so why should a woman be fired for the exact same thing? Treating women differently than men in the workplace is absolutely a form of gender discrimination. No woman, or man for that matter, has to put up with gender discrimination in the workplace. Our Florida Discrimination Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you seek financial compensation for wrongs you have experienced in the workplace.

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After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Crown Linen LLC – based in Orlando, Florida – will pay $60,863 in back wages to 15 employees for violations of the overtime and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

WHD investigators found that the employer incorrectly considered two groups of employees as exempt from the overtime requirements as managers under the FLSA. This misapplication of the exemption resulted in the employer paying overtime-eligible employees flat weekly salaries with no regard to the number of hours they worked.

This practice resulted in violations when these employees worked more than 40 hours per week and were not paid overtime. Additionally, the employer paid other employees straight time instead of overtime when they worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

The employer also failed to maintain required records of the number of hours employees worked.

How your employer classifies you matters a tremendous deal to your income. If you have been lumped into a managerial position you will lose out on certain benefits that other workers receive, including overtime pay. The law is crystal clear about who should be tited a manager, so if you are worried that your employer has classified you as a manager in error, you may be entitled to financial compensation for back pay and overtime wages.

Our Orlando Employment Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are committed to protecting the rights of employees. We can help determine if a misclassification has occurred in your case and explore your options going forward.

Under federal law, certain qualifications must be met in order for an employee to be considered a manager, including:

  • A guaranteed weekly salary of $455 per week
  • No pay reductions based on the quality or quantity of work in any given week
  • No pay deductions for normal business losses
  • Managers must be responsible for directing the work of at least two employees
  • Managers must be allowed to weigh in on hiring/firing decisions

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After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Paradise Villa Retirement Home Inc. – operator of five South Florida assisted living facilities – has paid $103,389 in back wages to 20 employees for violating minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

WHD investigators concluded that Paradise Villa Retirement Home Inc. inaccurately classified caregivers as independent contractors rather than employees and paid them flat rates per day without regard to the number of hours they actually worked.

This practice resulted in minimum wage violations when those flat rates failed to cover all the hours employees worked at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Overtime violations resulted when employees worked more than 40 hours in a workweek but were paid only their flat rates with no overtime.

WHD also cited recordkeeping violations when the employer failed to maintain records of the number of hours employees worked.

Misclassifying workers as independent contractors is a very common practice in the workplace. While illegal, some employees elect to engage in these wage theft practices to evade their responsibility to pay workers their legally required wages and benefits.

Is your employer violating your labor rights by misclassifying your job? If your employer is treating you like an independent contractor instead of an employee, our Florida Employment Attorneys at Whittel & Melton may be able to help.

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